Changed by His Son's Smile

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A family he didn’t know he wanted…

When ex-flame Dr. Danielle Sheridan arrives at Chase Bowen’s African clinic he’s captivated by her…and her little son! Three years ago Chase turned down Dani’s surprise marriage proposal—their life was just too dangerous for a family—but he didn’t know she was pregnant!

Losing Dani once was hard enough. Losing her twice is not an option. Especially when he’s already fallen for his adorable son, Drew. Now Chase is determined to make Dani his again—starting with an undeniable acceptance of her three-year-old proposal!

“It’s been three years. Too long to just take up where we left off.”

“Not so long that I don’t remember where you like to be kissed.”

Surprise turned to shock when he lowered his head to touch his lips to the sensitive spot beneath her earlobe, slowly sliding them to the hollow of her throat.

His voice vibrated against her skin. “How you like to be kissed.”

“Chase, stop.” A delicious shiver snaked its way down her body before he lifted his head to stare into her eyes. “We—”

His mouth dropped to hers and, despite part of her brain protesting that a kiss between them just complicated things, her eyes slid closed. The soft warmth of his lips sent her spiraling back to all the times they’d sneaked kisses between patients, celebrating successful outcomes, or held each other in wordless comfort when a patient was lost. To all the times they’d tramped in the mountains and made love anywhere that seemed inviting.

Apparently her hands had their own memories, slipping up his chest to cup the back of his neck, his soft hair tickling her fingers.
He’s right
. The vague thought flitted through her head as his wide palm slid between her shoulderblades, pressing her body closer as he deepened the kiss. It had been very,
very
good between them. Until it hadn’t.

Dear Reader,

When I decided to write a Harlequin Medical Romance™ book set in an exotic place, Benin, West Africa, was an easy choice. I could still see the gripping photographs my husband had taken when he worked in a mission hospital there some years ago, and enjoyed hearing his account of the months he was there. It was interesting learning more about Benin and thinking about the kinds of people who dedicate their lives to medical work there and elsewhere.

My story’s hero is Dr. Chase Bowen, who grew up in mission hospitals and is now dedicated to his patients and to the work he considers his calling. Because he knows from experience that it isn’t safe for non-native children in the countries where he works, Chase believes having a family of his own isn’t an option. Until Dr. Danielle Sheridan returns to his life, bringing with her the son he didn’t know he had.

Danielle believed she was doing the best thing for her son, keeping him a secret, since Chase had made it clear he never wanted children. Now that Chase knows, can they make a new relationship work with the challenges of their careers and fears? Chase wants marriage, but Dani isn’t convinced. Then a terrifying event challenges them both.

I hope you enjoy reading
Changed by His Son’s Smile
as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Robin Gianna

CHANGED BY HIS SON’S SMILE

Robin Gianna

CHANGED BY HIS SON’S SMILE
is Robin Gianna’s debut title!

Acknowledgments

For me, it takes a village to write a Medical Romance™!

Many thanks to:

Kevin Hackett, MD and Betsy Hackett, RN, DSN, for tolerating my frantic phone calls and hugely assisting me. SO appreciate the awesome scene, Kevin!

My lovely sister-in-law, Trish Connor, MD,
for her great ideas and help.

Critique partner, writer friend, and pediatric emergency physician Meta Carroll, MD, for double-checking scenes for accuracy. You’re wonderful!

The many writer friends I can’t begin to thank enough, especially Sheri, Natalie, Susan and Margaret. Without you, my bootstraps might still be laying on the floor.

My agent, Cori Deyoe of 3 Seas Literary Agency,
for her tireless assistance with everything.

Dedication

To George, my own doctor hero husband. Thank you for supporting me in my writing dream, for answering my endless medical questions, and for putting up with the piles of books and pens and papers and Post-it® notes that clutter our house. I love you.

CHAPTER ONE

T
HE
POOR
WOMAN
might not be able to have more babies, but at least she wasn’t dead.

Chase Bowen’s patient stared at him with worry etched on her face as she slowly awakened from surgery.

He leaned closer, giving her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay now. You’re going to be fine,” Chase said in Fon, the most common language in The Republic of Benin, West Africa. If she didn’t understand, he’d try again in French.

She nodded, and the deep, warm gratitude in her gaze filled his chest with an intense gratitude of his own. Times like these strengthened his appreciation for the life he had. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Chase understood why, despite their family tragedy, his parents still spent their lives doctoring the neediest of humankind.

“Her vital signs are all normal, Dr. Bowen,” the nurse anesthetist said. “Thank God. I’ve never seen hemoglobin as rock bottom as hers.”

“Yeah. Ten more minutes and it probably would’ve been too late.”

He pressed his fingers to her pulse once more and took a deep breath of satisfaction. Ectopic pregnancy from pelvic inflammatory scarring was all too frequent in this part of the world, with polygamy and the diseases that came with that culture being commonplace. He’d feared this was one of the patients who wouldn’t make it.

There’d been too many close calls lately, and Chase tried to think what else they could do about that. Their group had an ongoing grass-roots approach, trying to encourage patients to come in before their conditions were critical. But people weren’t used to relying on modern medicine to heal them. Not to mention that patients sometimes had to walk miles just to get there.

“Will there be more babies?” the woman whispered.

He couldn’t tell if the fear in her voice was because she wanted more children, or because she didn’t want to go through such an ordeal again.

“We had to close off the tube that had the baby in it,” he said, gentling his voice. “But you still have another tube, so you can probably conceive another baby, if you want one.”

Whether she was fertile or not, Chase didn’t know. But the children she did have still had their mother. He squeezed her hand and smiled. “Your little ones who came with you looked pretty worried. Soon you’ll be strong enough to go home, and they’ll be very happy to have their
maman
again.”

A smile touched her lips as her eyelids drifted shut. Chase left her in the capable hands of the nurse anesthetist and stripped off his gown to head outside. Moist heat wrapped around him like a soft, cottony glove as he stepped from the air-conditioned cement-block building that made do as the clinic and O.R. for the local arm of Global Physicians Coalition.

Dusk still kept that particular inch of sub-Saharan West Africa bathed in low light at nine-thirty p.m., and he didn’t bother to pull his penlight from his pocket. The generators would be turned off soon, and the growl of his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch. Finding dinner in the dark was a crap shoot, so a quick trip to the kitchen had to happen before the lights went out.

He strode around the corner of the building and nearly plowed down Trent Dalton.

“Whoa, you off to save another life?” Trent said, stumbling a few steps. “I heard your patient’s sister calling you ‘
mon héros
.’ I’m jealous.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve been called a hero once or twice, deserved or not,” Chase said.

“Not by such a pretty young thing. I recall it coming from an elderly man, which didn’t stroke my needy ego quite as much.”

Chase snorted. “Well, thank the Lord the pregnant sister was my patient instead of yours. Your ego would explode if it got any bigger.”

“I’m confident, not egotistical,” Trent said, slapping Chase on the back. “Let’s see what there is to eat. I’ve gotta get some food before I have to scrounge for a coconut by the side of the road.”

“With any luck, Spud still has something in there for us.”

“No chance of that. He left a while ago to pick up the new doc who just arrived from the States.”

Spud wasn’t even here? Chase’s stomach growled louder as he realized the chances of finding anything halfway decent to eat was looking less likely by the minute.

The place would doubtless fall apart without Spud Jones, the go-to guy who cooked, ordered all the supplies, transported everyone everywhere and pretty much ran the place.

“How come I didn’t know there was a new doc coming?” Chase said as they walked toward the main building.

“Well, if you weren’t wrapped up in your own little world, maybe you’d enjoy more of the gossip around here.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“Not a he. A she. A very pretty she, according to Spud,” Trent said. “Thank God. As a constant companion, you’re not only the wrong gender, you’re dull as hell. We’re overdue for some new female beauty to spice things up around here.”

“We? You mean you,” Chase said with a grin. “There’s a reason Dr. Trent Dalton is known as the Coalition Casanova.”

“Hey, all work and no play makes life all work.” His light blue eyes twinkled. “She’s coming to finally get electronic clinic records set up on all the kids. I can’t wait to offer my suggestions and assistance.”

Chase laughed. As they neared the building, the sight of a Land Rover heading their way came into view within a cloud of dust on the road. Chances were good he’d worked with the new doctor before. The Global Physicians Coalition was a fairly small group, and most were great people. Medical workers who saw mission work as a calling, not just an occupation.

The sound of the Land Rover’s engine choked to a stop just out of sight in front of the building, and Trent turned to him with a smile of pure mischief. “And here’s my latest conquest arriving now. What a lucky lady.”

Trent took off towards the front doors and Chase followed more slowly, shaking his head with an exasperated smile. One of these days Trent’s way of charming the pants off women then leaving them flat with a smile and a wave was going to catch up with him. Not that his own record with females was much better.


Bon soir
, lovely lady. Welcome to paradise.”

Trent’s voice drifted across the air, along with Spud’s chuckle and a few more words from Trent that Chase didn’t catch.

Feminine laughter froze Chase in mid-step. A bubbly, joyous sound so distinctive, so familiar, so rapturous that his breath caught, knowing it couldn’t be her. Knowing he shouldn’t want it to be her. Knowing that he’d blown it all to hell when he’d last seen her anyway.

Without intent or permission, his feet headed towards the sound and the headlights of the dusty Land Rover. Shadowy figures stood next to it, and he could see Trent taking the new arrival’s bulky shoulder bag from her. Spud was obviously introducing the two, with Trent giving her his usual too-familiar embrace.

Chase had to fight the sudden urge to run forward, yank Trent loose, and tell him to keep his hands off.

He hadn’t needed to see the curly blonde halo glowing in the twilight to know it was her. To see that beautiful, crazy hair pulled into the messy ponytail that was so right for the woman who owned it. A visual representation of impulsive, exuberant, unforgettable Danielle Sheridan.

Chase stared at her across the short expanse of earth, his heart beating erratically as though he’d suddenly developed atrial fibrillation.

He’d always figured they’d run into one another again someday on some job somewhere in the world. But he hadn’t figured on it stopping his heart and shortening his breath. Three years was a long time. Too long to still be affected this way, and he didn’t want to think about what that meant.

She was dressed in her usual garb—khaki shorts that showed off her toned legs and a slim-fitting green T-shirt that didn’t attempt to hide her slender curves. In the process of positioning another bag on her shoulder, it seemed she felt his gaze and lifted her head. Their eyes met, and the vibrant, iridescent blue of hers shone through the near darkness, stabbing straight into his gut.

Her big smile faded and her expression froze. A look flickered across her face that didn’t seem to be just a reflection of what he was feeling. The feeling that it would’ve been better if they hadn’t been stuck working together again. Bringing back memories of hot passion and cold goodbyes.

No, it was more than that. The same shock he felt was accompanied by very obvious dismay. Horror, even. No happy reunion happening here, he guessed. Obviously, the way they’d parted three years ago had not left her with warm and fuzzy feelings toward him. Or even cool and aloof ones.

“Chase! Come meet your new cohort in crime,” Spud said.

He moved closer to the car on legs suddenly gone leaden. Dani’s heart-shaped face wore an expression of near panic. She bent down to peer into the backseat of the Land Rover then bobbed back up, their eyes meeting again.

“Danielle, this is Dr. Chase Bowen,” Spud said as he heaved her duffle. “Chase, Dr. Danielle Sheridan.”

“Dani and I have met,” Chase said. And wasn’t that an absurd understatement? They’d worked together for over a year in Honduras. The same year they’d made love nearly every day. Within warm waterfalls, on green mountain meadows, in sagging bunk beds.

The year Dani had told him she wanted to make it permanent, to have a family with him. For very good reasons, a family couldn’t happen for Chase, and he’d told her so. The next day she’d left the compound.

All those intense and mixed-up memories hung in the air between them, strangely intimate despite the presence of Trent and Spud. Suddenly in motion, she surprised him by moving fast, stepping around the hood of the car in a near jog straight towards him, thrusting her hand into his in a brusque, not-very-Dani-like way.

“Chase. It’s been a while. How’ve you been?”

Her polite tone sounded strained, and he’d barely squeezed her soft hand before she yanked it loose.

“Good. I’ve been good.” Maybe not so good. As he stared into the blue of her eyes, he remembered how much he’d missed her when she’d left. More than missed her sunny smile, her sweet face, her beautiful body.

But he’d known it had been best for both of them. If a family was what she wanted, she should marry a guy rooted in the States. No point in connecting herself to a wandering medic who wouldn’t have the least idea how to stay within the confines of a white picket fence.

Apparently, though, she hadn’t found husband and father material, because here she was in Africa. The woman who had burrowed under his skin like a guinea worm, and he had a bad feeling that her arrival would start that persistent itch all over again.

“Dani,” Spud called from across the car, “I’m going to take your duffle to your quarters, then be back to help you get—”

“Great, thanks,” Dani interrupted brightly. “I appreciate it.”

She turned back to Chase, and he noted the trapped, almost scared look in her eyes. Was the thought of having to work with him again that horrible?

“I thought the GPC website said you were in Senegal,” Dani said. “Are you...staying here?”

“No, just stopped in for a little day tour of the area.”

The twist of her lips showed she got his sarcasm loud and clear. What, she hoped he was about to grab a cab and head to the next tourist destination? He couldn’t remember Dani ever saying dumb things before. In fact, she was one of the smartest pediatricians he’d had the opportunity to work with over the years. One of the smartest docs, period.

“Well. I...” Her voice faded away and she licked her lips. Sexy, full lips he’d loved to kiss. Tempting lips that had been one of the first things he’d noticed about her when they’d first met.

“So-o-o,” Trent said, looking at Dani, then Chase, then back at Dani again with raised brows. “Chase and I were about to have a late dinner and a beer. Are you hungry?”

“No, thanks, I had snacks in the car. You two go on and eat, I’m sure you’re starved after a long day of clinic and surgeries.” She put on a bright and very fake smile. “I’ll get the low-down on the routine around here tomorrow. Right now I’m just going to have Spud show me my room and get settled in. Bye.”

She walked back to the other side of the Land Rover and then just stood there, hovering, practically willing them to leave. Well, if she wanted to act all weird about the two of them being thrown together again, that was fine by him.

“Come on,” he said to Trent as he moved towards the kitchen. While his appetite had somehow evaporated, a beer sounded damned good.

“Mommy!”

The sound of a muffled little voice floated across the sultry air, and Chase again found himself stopping dead. He slowly turned to see Dani leaning into the back of the Land Rover. To watch, stunned, as she pulled a small child out through the open door and perched him on her hip.

Guess he’d been wrong about her finding husband and father material. And pretty damned fast after she’d left.

“Mommy, are we there yet?” The sleepy, sweet-faced boy of about two and a half wrapped his arms around her neck and pressed his cheek to her shoulder. A boy who didn’t have blue eyes and crazy, curly blond hair like the woman holding him.

No, he had dark hair that was straight, waving just a bit at the ends. A little over-long, it brushed across eyebrows that framed brown eyes fringed with thick, dark lashes. A boy who looked exactly like the photos Chase’s mother had hauled all around the world and propped up in every one of the places they’d lived. Photos of him and his brother when they were toddlers.

Impossible.

But as he stared at the child then slowly lifted his gaze to Dani’s, the obvious truth choked off his breath and smacked him like a sledgehammer to the skull. He didn’t have to do the math or see the resemblance. The expression in her eyes and on her face told him everything.

He had a son. A child she hadn’t bothered to tell him about. A child she had the nerve, the stupidity to take on a medical mission to a developing country. Something he was adamantly against...and for good reason.

“I guess...we need to talk,” Dani said, glancing down at the child in her arms. She looked back at Chase with a mix of guilt, frustration and resignation flitting across her face. “But let’s...let’s do it tomorrow. I’m beat, and I need to get Andrew settled in, get him something to eat.”

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